Since the start of the pandemic, tens of billions of dollars in federal money has been earmarked for rent relief.

But as the COVID-related eviction moratorium was whittled down last month, precious little of it had made its way to renters and landlords — just 11% of the total funding had been dispersed as of the end of July, with some states barely moving any at all.

Those states could learn something from Maine, which has done better than most in getting support to tenants, so much so that the changes in the eviction moratorium likely won’t have much impact here. Others should follow our lead in implementing policies that reach people who need help.

There’s little time to waste. According to a Census Bureau survey, an estimated 1.2 million households face eviction in the next two months over failure to pay rent.

Yet by the end of July, just $5.1 billion out of the $46.5 billion rental aid program had been spent. The money can be spent for up to three years, but with so many people facing housing problems now, it was expected that the program would be considerably frontloaded.

Of the 2.8 million Americans who had applied by the time of the report, only about 500,000 had received assistance, with another 1.5 million waiting for an answer.

What’s more, it’s estimated that more than 60% of vulnerable renters nationwide had not applied, likely because they don’t know about it.

Maine, by contrast, had given out more than $46 million to more than 9,200 households by late July.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t housing issues in Maine — affordability will remain a statewide problem until more housing is built, and too many Mainers pay far too much of their paychecks to rent, and there’s evidence that low-income renters continue to struggle to maintain safe, stable housing.

But housing advocates are confident that, when it comes to COVID rental relief, the most vulnerable Mainers are being reached.

Not every state can say that.

In some cases, the slow start in distributing the rent relief has been reversed. New York state had only given out $117,000 by the end of July, but it’s now one of the highest-performing states. Louisiana, where in June 266,000 renters said they had “no confidence” they could pay rent, only 976 had been served by the program by July; just a few weeks later, it was up to about 3,400 people served.

But according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, at least 15 states hadn’t distributed even 5% of the funding they received — and certainly not because people don’t need it.

The Biden administration is trying to make the application process more simple, though some local officials are hesitant to speed it up because of fears of potential fraud.

They shouldn’t be. There’s no evidence that fraud is a problem in the states that are more quickly providing relief. Whatever problems are caused by fast-tracking the application process are minimal compared to those that could come when millions of Americans find their housing at risk.

The Biden administration must do what it can to reach renters in states where that is not happening. Every idea being discussed — from using the courts to reach vulnerable tenants facing eviction to directly reaching out to landlords — should be on the table, as should everything learned by states like Maine that are doing it right.

The president should use every available resource to make sure people don’t unnecessarily lose their homes.


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